Rep. Tom Dent joins with House to pass ‘Joel’s Law’ giving hope for families with mentally-ill individuals


Legislator: Rep. Tom Dent
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The state House of Representatives gave unanimous approval Thursday to a bill that would allow family members of mentally-ill individuals to petition the courts for involuntary treatment. John Sattgast reports from Olympia.

John Sattgast: House Bill 1258 is known as “Joel's Law.” It's named after Joel Reuter, a man struggling with bipolar disorder who was fatally shot by police two years ago just weeks after being discharged from the hospital.

Washington is one of seven states that prevents family members from petitioning the court to review a decision to not commit a mentally-ill person. But lawmakers, including newly-elected freshman, State Representative Tom Dent of Moses Lake, say the law needs to change to make sure family members of those with mental illness can get the help they need.

Dent's own foster son suffers from bipolar disorder. In his first speech on the House floor, Dent described his intense concern for his son when the young man stole their car, took a gun with him, and was stopped by police in Spokane while on the phone with his father.

Dent: “I talked him into putting the gun under the seat. He did. I talked him into stepping out of the car. He did. And it was fine. And I got there about 20 minutes later and they had him handcuffed. I want to say something to shout out to these Spokane deputies, because they could have shot him and they didn't. And they recognized he had issues. They recognized he was suicidal and they took him to Sacred Heart to the psych ward.”

Sattgast: 13th District State Representative Tom Dent, who joined with other lawmakers to say that the status quo is unacceptable, and that the current law does not account for the emotional struggles it inflicts on families.

The measure, which passed 98 to 0, now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

John Sattgast, Olympia.

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